COA: Court disregarded procedures in PCR case

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a man’s denied petition for relief from what he alleged as conspiracy to wrongfully convict and confine him, among other things, after finding a post-conviction court erred in the procedure it used to dispose of his petition.

Following his conviction for Class B felony child molesting, John Laboa filed for post-conviction relief from his 20-year sentence. He specifically alleged that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, professional misconduct, judicial bias, and a conspiracy among those involved in his case to wrongfully convict and confine him.

Without holding an evidentiary hearing or ordering that the parties proceed by affidavit, the judge denied his petition. Laboa argued in a pro se appeal that the trial court erred in denying his petition without holding the hearing by denying him the opportunity to offer additional evidence for a hearing.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed in John Laboa v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-00951, finding that because the trial court’s judgment was not decided as provided by the post-conviction rules, it therefore erred in the procedure it used to dispose of Laboa’s petition.

“The fact that Laboa submitted several affidavits to the court when he filed (and then amended) his petition, is not equivalent to ordering the parties to proceed upon affidavit. Had the post-conviction court ordered the case tried upon affidavit, Laboa would have been entitled to gather and submit additional evidence he felt was relevant to his claims within the allocated time by the court,” Judge Margret Robb wrote.

“In addition, not only did the State not submit any affidavits, the chronological case summary also indicates that the State failed to respond to Laboa’s petition as required by Post-Conviction Rule 1(4)(a), which states: ‘Within thirty (30) days after the filing of the petition, or within any further reasonable time the court may fix, … the prosecuting attorney … shall respond by answer stating the reasons, if any, why the relief prayed for should not be granted.’

“Therefore, the post-conviction court did not avail itself of the option provided by Post-Conviction Rule 1(9) to decide a post-conviction case without a hearing. And in its order, the post-conviction court stated it had considered the pleadings and affidavits submitted by Laboa; thus, it did not decide the case as provided by Post-Conviction Rule 1(4)(f), either. Moreover, the postconviction court could not decide the case as provided by Post-Conviction Rule 1(4)(g) because neither party moved for summary disposition,” the panel concluded.

The case was thus reversed and remanded with instructions to either order the cause to be submitted by affidavit, allowing Laboa time to gather and submit affidavits he feels are relevant to his allegations, or hold an evidentiary hearing. The appellate court declined to recommend or comment on a particular course of action.

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